Freeman continues 3B apprenticeship as Braves visit Nats (Jul 06, 2017)

BY AP • July 6, 2017

WASHINGTON -- The Atlanta Braves will begin a four-game series Thursday night at the first-place Washington Nationals in a matchup of teams that have dealt with or are dealing with wrist injuries to key infielders.

Atlanta's Freddie Freeman, the left-handed swinger, returned from the disabled list Tuesday and played third base; he was also there Wednesday against the Houston Astros. He has been a mainstay at first base for several years and has a .330 career average against Washington.

Freeman is 3-for-7 in two games as a third baseman without making an error.

"I actually felt pretty good going into it," Freeman told reporters about playing third. "When I got that uneasy feeling (about playing third) out of the way in the rehab games, it's been gone ever since. Obviously, I wanted to get the first one out of the way."

It will be harder to predict who will start at shortstop for Washington on Thursday.

Regular shortstop Trea Turner will be out for several weeks after he was hit on the right wrist on a pitch from Pedro Strop of the Chicago Cubs on June 29.

Since then, the Nationals have started three players at shortstop: veteran Stephen Drew, 34; Wilmer Difo, 25, and Adrian Sanchez, 26. Sanchez made his MLB debut Saturday when he was called up from Triple-A Syracuse after Turner was injured.

"I have three of them, and all three can play all three infield positions," Washington manager Dusty Baker said of the trio of infielders.

Difo made his big league debut with 15 games in 2015 and has split time between the high minors and Washington since, being used as a utility player and pinch-runner. He is an above-average defender but has limited power at the plate.

Difo had two hits and scored three times in an 11-4 victory over the Mets on Tuesday.

"You don't see many young players who can turn double plays from both sides of the bag," Baker said of Difo. "At second base, I see Difo out there practicing all the time on turning double plays."

The first-place Nationals (50-34) will start left-hander Gio Gonzalez (7-3, 2.77 ERA) on Thursday against Atlanta right-hander Mike Foltynewicz (6-5, 3.83), who took a no-hitter into the ninth inning Friday against the Oakland Athletics.

Gonzalez is having his best season since 2012, when he went 21-8, but is 4-9 with a 5.13 ERA in 18 starts in his career against the Braves (40-43), who lost Wednesday to the Astros 10-4 while giving up 16 hits.

Foltynewicz gave up a homer to Matt Olson in the ninth in his last start as Oakland broke up his no-hitter.

"The fourth time through the lineup it gets a little tougher. They start seeing you a little better," he told reporters.

The right-hander is 1-1 with a 6.14 ERA in four career starts against Washington. He is 0-1 with an 8.17 ERA in two starts against the Nationals this year.

He will get offensive support from Freeman (.343) and first baseman Matt Adams (.285).

Freeman wanted to move to third base as the Braves acquired hard-hitting Adams from the St. Louis Cardinals a few days after Freeman hurt his left wrist May 17.

"I told (Freeman) he could stay (with Gwinnett) for another three or four days and never get a ground ball and the first one he gets (in a major league) game will probably be different than the one he got down there," Atlanta manager Brian Snitker told reporters. "He told me he was down there wanting every ball hit to him."